Micron unveils multilevel cell SSDs for notebooks

RealSSD C200 flash drives, with up to 256GB capacity, replace Micron's SLC drives

Micron Technology Inc. today is set to introduce its RealSSD C200 product line, which includes its first multilevel cell (MLC) solid-state drives. The MLC drives offer faster read and write speeds and better endurance than the single-level cell (SLC) Micron flash drives they are replacing, the company said.

The new product family includes two models: The 2.5-in. C200, which can store up to 256GB, and the 1.8-in. C200, which can store 32GB to 128GB, said Dean Klein, vice president of memory system development at Boise, Idaho-based Micron. The new drives are currently being tested and are slated to ship in the fourth quarter of this year, he added.

Micron today also plans to unveil its first solid-state drive for corporate servers. The 2.5-in. RealSSD P200 flash memory drive ranges in density from 16GB to 128GB and operates at 2.5 watts in active mode and under 0.3 watts in idle model. The RealSSD P200 is also scheduled to begin shipping in the fourth quarter.

The multi-level cell line of NAND flash drives offers better performance than Micron's previous single-level cell memory drives due to improvements in the drives' controller
The RealSSD C200 and P200 solid state drives

Klein declined to disclose pricing plans for the new product lines.

The new Micron SSD products will not include the 34-nanometer, 32Gbit NAND flash memory chip the company is jointly developing with Intel Corp., Klein said, explaining that the new technology is still in development. The jointly developed chip, which is expected to offer about 1.6TB of NAND per device, will be included in upgrades of the new offerings, Klein noted.

Micron said that it has already contacted customers to explain its plans to eliminate the SLC-based RealSSD C100 SSD products from its portfolio in favor of the new C200 drives. Launched in November, the SLC-based devices are slower and less reliable than the new C200 MLC offerings, according to Klein. The C200 products offer sustained read speeds of up to 250MB/sec. and write speeds of up to 100MB/sec., while the C100 line features read times of up to 65MB/sec. and 35MB/sec. for sustained writes.

"We just don't believe there will be a market for the C100 and for SLC NAND in a client application," said Klein. In fact, because of the significant speed and performance boost delivered by putting two bits on a cell with MLC as opposed to placing a single bit on a cell with SLC, he described SLC-based SSDs for notebook PCs from NAND flash manufacturers as living on "borrowed time."

Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis, said a move to MLC technology should help cut prices for notebook storage devices by as much as half. Such savings may finally convince skeptical corporate users to replace physical disk drives with diskless NAND flash memory.

"It's a huge difference in pricing going from SLC to MLC. That's important because the reason SSDs have not taken off so far is because they don't provide compelling benefits in return for a significant price increase," said Handy.

Handy said Micron's move to enable the P200 flash controllers and firmware to support an external DRAM buffer will speed data movement and help overcome slow and irregular writes of flash which have so far hampered adoption of the technology. "The speed advantage people were hoping to see with SSDs has not materialized; it's been a recipe for disaster," he said. "By putting DRAM in like Micron has done, they have given themselves the potential to consistently outperform hard drives."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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